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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.



Easter is behind us now. I don't necessarily mean that I don't like to celebrate Easter, I certainly do, but to a gardener that means down and dirty time. It never made sense to me when people say that they don't plant until after Easter. Sometimes Easter comes early and other times Easter comes late. How can the weather maker know to have a cold snap just before Easter no matter when that day comes? I don't know how but there have been very few years that it hasn’t proved to be true including this year. I guess this just one of those things I'll never understand.

I have some great news. Garden works is opening up our business on May 1. I'm not sure what it's going to be like, we are leaning more towards the model of letting 10 people at a time in and it will be more of a self-help model then we've ever tried. I believe we will evolve our ways over the next year as we all wait for a vaccine. We know that could be a year or more so we will all be learning and as patient as it takes to get through this. Luckily there is plenty of spring left when we open back up.

I have kept to readers abreast of my shenanigans in my yard as I have vowed to go organic. So far I've not used any herbicides in my lawn and one thing I've noticed is that my St. Augustine is way happier without it. Apparently the chemicals deemed safe to use on St. Augustine should not be used in early, emerging stages of springtime. These chemicals are seriously burning the young tips of St. Augustine grass that costs a couple months to recover. I've done that early spring lawn cleanup with the “safe on all grasses" chemicals in the past. This year without that I am seeing a faster and healthier emergence of my lawn.

I plan to fertilize eventually with milorganite. Milorganite is a fertilizer made from the byproduct of Milwaukee's sewer waste system. Milorganite is easy to find, works great and some people use it as a deer repellent as it has a human component in it that deters deer. One of Jackson's greatest and most hilarious gardeners who turned me onto milorganite called one day to order Huolorganite night instead of milorganite. I was carefully writing down the name of this new organic fertilizer when he said that it works even better as a deer repellent because it was from Houston's wastewater system and had a higher concentration of Tex Mex food in the mix therefore the jalapenos made it work better. After I asked him to help me spell it one more time he snickered. He was joking. He had me going, kind of makes sense. I learn more and more that we love to fiddle with things in the garden. Sometimes it may be better to get things going and let mother nature run her course because in the end she's going to win anyway. I'm a fiddler, too. I'm in the learning process of letting things happen; I've got a long way to go.

Last week I wrote about plants in the Sahara desert and around the Mediterranean Ocean in Morocco. From there I drifted into Egypt, my plan was to stay there for two months. My parents were on their way to tour Israel and stopped off in Cairo so we could see each other. They brought me a bag of Oreos and a new pair of blue jeans, it was around Christmas time so the gifts were great.

My parents had sometime to spend before their trip started so we took a boat up the Nile River. It was there that I noticed plants that I recognized from back home. The banks of the Nile are covered with papyrus. Papyrus was the plant they somehow made paper from in the ancient times. We have a few types of papyrus we use here as water plants and we use them in our pot scapes. King Tut is one variety I maintain on the edge of my pond. Little Tut is a dwarf version of it, but it doesn't seem to be very hardy. Mimi and I use a taller variety of papyrus in pots or in the ground I really like because he comes back from winter.

My parents had enough time to take the long trip south into the Valley of the Kings in the Sahara. On rickety old bikes we pedaled to king tombs. This area was like a moonscape, there seemed to be no plant life as far as the eye could see. When we would come across a village it seemed as if one couldn’t keep a gardner down wherever in the world they maybe. Every door had a bucket or coffee can with some kind of plant struggling to exist. I will never forget on Christmas day and once again on new years me along with a couple other travelers climbed to the top of the pyramids of Giza. Let me tell you the pictures of those pyramids don't show the size of the blocks they are built with. Each block is a full pull-up. We started at about 3 a.m. so by the time the guards could see us we were out of shouting distance. We reached the top around sun up. The view from up there was one that is hard to describe from what I could see through the smog.

From there I crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai desert and headed towards Mount Sinai. I found a place to sleep in some palm huts on the Red Sea I woke up one morning to a camel pulling at the palm fronds that made my hut. A little monkey came in through the hole the camel had created and ate my bread. The bread was a little sandy anyway, no big loss, but a little unusual. I snorkeled in the Red Sea and saw the underwater garden that the Beatles sing about. That is a garden that I know little about but it was unbelievably gorgeous.

As I was climbing Mount Sinai I came across a place where the burning bush is. Upon closer inspection it turns out that the burning bush is a lantana plant that was blooming multicolors and the size of a Volkswagen beetle. Most southern gardeners have a lantana around the house, so I guess if you need to talk or pray with the plants during these unprecedented times lantana would be a good start. Lantana grows well here and sometimes comes back after winter.

I have noticed that when the real heat comes on in August and September they seem to be a petri dish for spider mites. The best way to control spider mites on lantana during these months is to cut them back, clean up the cuttings and spray insecticidal soap on them. They will come back beautifully in bloom heavily in the fall. When the nights begin to get below 40 degrees, it's time to cut them back and covered them with very little mulch. This method will give you the best chance of having them come back the following spring.

We sincerely hope everyone is staying healthy during these times and preparing to function in a shopping world we won't recognize. I think we should take it slow and be patient while we all figured this out together. This is a time we can stop for a change and decide what really matters and what really doesn't matter. For some, the home and the yard will be what matters in the end, a place to hunker down safely and get to know ourselves and one another little better.

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